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May 19

Eat Your Way Through History

Posted on May 19, 2014 at 11:21 AM by Craig Jacobson

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Salt Kurlansky.jpgPepper Shaffer.jpgThese books all trace a particular vein of history through one or more tasty (and sometimes, not so tasty) treats. How did oysters help establish New York City? Why did Charlemagne use asbestos as a tablecloth? And which confection inspired an entirely new kind of drinking vessel?

Probably the best known history-through-food book is Salt by Mark Kurlansky. But it has an equally engrossing companion: Pepper: A History of the World’s Most Influential Spice, a commodity once so valuable, Romans demanded it in tribute from captured cities. Venice, in particular, grew rich on the trade of this and other spices in the 1400s – most of that wealth was from pepper.

Fortunes also hinged on other valuable foodstuffs – tea figures chief among them and its story is recounted in Liquid Jade by Beatrice Hohenegger, who traces the history of tea from herbal remedy to religious experience to the foundation of an empire. It has led to war on at least two continents and an extraordinary volume of literature has been produced about it – some texts going so far as to analyze which types of water produce the best results.

History of the World in 6 Glasses.jpgBut what about other beverages? A History of the World in 6 Glasses explores history through beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola, tracing their significance from ancient times to the present. Beer, for example, was such an integral part of Egyptian life that the combined hieroglyphs for “beer and bread” make the symbol for “food.”

If you’re looking for something a little more solid, Hot Dog: A Global History by Bruce Kraig explores the history of sausages with odd facts (The Coney or chili dog was invented in Detroit – by Greek immigrants.) while Cod: A Biography traces the impact of fishing on humanity from Viking times to the present. Perhaps you’d like to Consider the Fork – a recent invention, compared to the knife or spoon (and what, exactly, is a runcible spoon?).

Finish off your exploration with The True History of Chocolate or perhaps enjoy some Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure to round things out.

Hungry for more? Try these other titles that explore history through food:
Candy a Century.jpgAn Edible History of Humanity
A History of Food in 100 Recipes
Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors
Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga
The Big Oyster
Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee
Hideous Absinthe
Charlemagne’s Tablecloth
In Memory’s Kitchen
Food in History
Much Depends on Dinner

All images provided courtesy of Easicat and the Eastern Shores Library System